If a title like that, about a subject fraught with angst, anger, heartache, frustration, and loss doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will.
Years ago, in what seems another lifetime, I worked under an elder who was a highly trained and successful psychologist. In meetings and conversations, he occasionally referred to a medical condition called JPN.
Truthfully, I was often intimidated by this man and prone to nod and smile as if I knew exactly what he was talking about. Meanwhile, I ginned up a fierce search of what this particular malady was with absolutely no luck in the answers department.
Eventually, in a moment of confusion, I managed to work up the nerve to ask exactly what JPN was. To my humiliation, the room erupted in laughter…
JPN? Just Plain Nuts!
If I were you and had no clue what could possibly be meant by suggesting or questioning the idea of pandemics are wonderful, I’d be inclined to pass on an official diagnosis: Just Plain Nuts!
But if you can get past your predisposition to consider me JPN, I’d like you to think about it.
I recognize that people we love and care for have been gravely ill and some have died from this terrible scourge. Please don’t hear me talking about this pandemic in a way that lightens or somehow lessens your grief and agony. In fact, as I write about this, it’s from a different place that looks at the disruptions we have faced and how we have dealt with them.
Like many others, I have tried to take this pandemic very seriously:
- Wearing a mask
- Socially distancing
- Being considerate of those at a higher risk
- Not judging those who are legitimately fearful of this disease and its consequences
- Not judging those who see it as far less serious
- And grieving with those whose lives have been altered forever by death and other consequences.
Not knowing the future and what this pandemic yet has in store is difficult. And as much as I’d like to know what lies ahead, I am reminded anew of James’ words in 4:13-17…
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So, it is sin to know the good and yet not do it.” (CSB17)
Personally, I need to be reminded that I’m not in control of what life brings. And, I need to be reminded that I am prone to an arrogance that says I can control my life and the lives of others.
So, what do we do with a time such as this? Beyond learning how to control our actions and reactions, what more do we need to see?
Over the years, I have had a love/ hate relationship with Paul’s words in Romans 8:28…
“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (CSB17)
After the events of almost nine years ago—the murder of a wife and son—I hated this verse. I hated it because so many well-intentioned friends and acquaintances tried to convince me that in some weird convoluted way, the horrific loss my family suffered was somehow good.
I rejected that then; I reject that now. As I have written elsewhere, you can never tell a kid that the loss of his mother and brother is good. Not going to happen.
In the same way, if you are experiencing great loss as a result of this pandemic, I am not doing to you what was done to me. You can’t make the losses we experience good.
However, I’ve come to love this verse because I have a much greater appreciation, love for, and understanding of our great Redeemer—Restorer—Reconciler God who can take the worst of situations and use them in some way, some fashion for good.
In the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis, we know that he experienced a lot of hardship as a result of his brothers selling him into slavery. We also know that God used Joseph in a mighty way to save lives and further his redemptive plan. Hopefully you’ll remember what Joseph ultimately told his brothers when they reconnected many, many years later…
“…Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.” (CSB17)
I particularly like how Max Lucado said it: “One of the most potentially frightening aspects of being a Christian is knowing that when you put your trust in Jesus, all of Hell takes arms against you intending evil upon your life. And, yet what trumps that fear and evil is knowing that, no matter what comes, God is the Master Weaver. He takes what was intended for evil and reweaves it for good.” https://tinyurl.com/y524nd7q
All of that to get back to my premise: can we somehow see the good in this pandemic time?
Admittedly, this current situation we are all living in has been a huge disruption. As a preaching minister, I had a whole year of theme related stuff planned out for our church. And even as we shifted away from that, my work has changed dramatically—particularly in learning a whole new skillset (yes, old dogs can learn new tricks).
In spite of that, I see some wonderful things in these trying times. For instance, a lot of people have realized how badly they want to worship together. Some have come to see a greater value in Bible classes. A lot of us have realized just how much we depend on each other and the fellowship we share. Some of us have truly recognized that the church is not held hostage to a building.
That is wonderful to see—God does reweave our circumstances.
But even better, many of us have been awakened spiritually to our need/ desire/ purpose/ reason for dwelling in Jesus—and in that dwelling, to trust Him!
- To see opportunities to be His hands and feet
- To recognize that the church is bigger than our narrow inward focus
- To better understand how we can be a light in our own immediate communities.
From that perspective, pandemics can be wonderful opportunities to count our blessings, to realize the true source of our hope, and to really be the church—maybe for the very first time.
I wish no one would suffer as a result of this pandemic. I pray peace and blessings upon those who have.
And, I pray that together we grow in love and maturity—to move beyond our building-oriented issues and lives—to really shine like Jesus!
If we can do that, then we can say yes, God can do wonderful things even in the midst of a trying pandemic time!
May Paul’s words be true of us…
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in Christ’s triumphal procession and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (CSB17)
Les Ferguson, Jr.